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Brief Thoughts on the Death of a Cousin


The death of this cousin made a special impact on me. The biggest effect, I guess, was that I spent the day meditating on one of the great questions of philosophy/theology: the sovereignty of God vs. the free will of man.





 This blog is available in audio format here.



 I got shocking news the first thing last Saturday morning. My cousin Dawn passed away unexpectedly, a victim of the flu and its complications. She’s not the first of my 35 or so first cousins on my mother’s side to have passed away. Most of my cousins are older than me and some are still living today in their 90s. My shock at hearing the news was greater because Dawn was born only four months before me. My first thought was, “Wait, she’s my age!” In the summer of 1964, she and I headed off to college in different directions. She went to Texas and I to Arkansas.


After that, our contacts were mainly by mail or email. I got married and raised my family in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean; she raised her family in Kansas, not far from the geographical mid-point of the continental US, about as far from the ocean as one can get. Our paths crossed a time or two in later years, but if she had medical issues, I wasn’t aware of them. That adds to the element of surprise at hearing she had passed away.


After I heard the news, I spent the rest of the day reflecting on the question of God’s sovereignty and Man’s free will. It’s a debate that has filled the pages of books, split countless churches, and put an end to friendships. I had a fresh appreciation of the fact that no matter how far our freedom of choice extends, it does not include our getting to choose the timing and manner of our departure from this life. Atheists may not agree with us on the existence of a God who is in control of the affairs of our lives, but they can’t reasonably claim they are in charge of deciding how and when their lives will end. In that matter, God is sovereign, and Dawn’s passing brought that point home to me.  


For one thing, we cannot choose not to die, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so, death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned,” Romans 5.12 KJV. But even in death there is an element of free will, because even though we are not free to choose when and how we die, we do have a choice in how we prepare for that day.


Does that mean we get to choose how we will be saved? Can we plan our own escape from the final condemnation? No. God is sovereign, and He has established the way and the means.


1) Jesus will be the final judge of every soul. “For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, 23that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”  John 5.22-23.NKJV  


2) Jesus, the Judge, has already issued the verdict. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14.6  He has already declared that, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” John 5.24 NKJV


3) God, through Peter, reaffirmed that plan at the very beginning of the church. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4.12.


In other words, only fools would revile the character of the judge who is charged with sentencing them. Those who speak evil of Jesus now will one day stand before Him as their judge. Here then is where we exercise our free will: we can accept the one and only way God has decreed, or we can reject it. The choice is ours. The responsibility is ours. Our eternal salvation or our eternal condemnation depends on that decision. I have no idea how and when my life on earth will end. God knows, but He hasn’t told me anything about that. As for what happens to each of us after we pass into eternity, God knows that, too, and He has told us something about it in His Word. Not everything, of course. We are incapable of comprehending the full horrors of hell or the full glory of His presence. But He tells us enough for us to choose His offer of salvation. Many years ago, I entrusted Him with the details of this life and whatever comes afterwards.


Dawn’s death was a poignant reminder that I’m old enough to die at any time. But, then, aren’t we all?

 

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Charles Stoner
Charles Stoner
Mar 12

I appreciate the way you ended by stating that you are old enough to die at any time...aren't we all? So true. Since I've become an octogenarian, I sometimes wonder how much longer I might have. But not to worry, as I turn to the next task and find meaning, whether it's Bible reading, prayer time, chats with my dear wife, or weeding the garden.

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